How to Increase Grip Strength for Weightlifting

Man weightlifting at gym

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Grip strength is necessary for performing many daily tasks as well as various sports. It is also essential for weightlifting. How strongly you can grab and grip the bar when performing strength training movements can significantly impact your performance. 

Some people are limited by their grip strength and seek to improve it. There are several ways of improving your grip strength through exercises, specific tools, and grip methods.

What is Grip Strength?

Grip strength is how much force you can generate with your grip. There are different types of grip strength, including:

  • Crushing: This type of grip strength uses your fingers and the palm of your hand.
  • Supportive: Supportive grip strength relates to how long you can grip or hang.
  • Pinching: The strength of how forcefully you can grasp something between your fingers and thumb.

The muscles that comprise grip strength include the muscles of the forearm and hand. Thirty-five of the muscles that control finger movement originate in your forearm and hand. These muscles work together in all gripping actions.

The Importance of Grip Strength

Grip strength is not only important for weight lifting; it's also relevant for overall health. In fact, evidence suggests that weak grip strength may indicate an increased risk of heart failure and mortality. Since grip strength is connected to muscle mass, it declines as you get older. Improving your grip strength and preserving muscle tone can be very beneficial to your long-term health.

When it comes to weightlifting, a strong grip is necessary to increase the amount of weight you can lift. This is particularly important for exercises such as deadlifts, barbell rows, pull-ups, and barbell snatches or high pulls.

How to Improve Grip Strength

Improving grip strength can be done by practicing the same weight lifting movements that use grip. There are also several other methods of increasing grip strength through specific exercises and tools.

Improving Grip Strength at Home

You can improve your grip strength at home using a towel, heavy book, tennis ball, grocery bags, or rubber bands.

  • Towels: Wet a towel and hold each end horizontally in front of you. Grip the ends and ring the towel in opposite directions.
  • Heavy book: Hold a heavy book in a pinched grasp between your fingers and thumb. If this is not challenging, try moving your fingers and thumb along the book’s spine from one end to the other and back.
  • Tennis ball: Hold a tennis ball in your palm and squeeze with your fingers only (leaving your thumb up). Squeeze as tightly as possible before releasing. Repeat this exercise up to 100 times a day.
  • Grocery bags: When you bring groceries home, use large, reusable bags that can hold a lot of weight. Carry them at your sides like a farmer's carry
  • Rubber bands: Place two or more rubber bands around the ends of your fingers and thumb and practice opening and closing your fingers by spreading them apart against the resistance of the bands. Add more bands as your strength improves.

Tools for Improving Grip Strength

There are some tools specifically designed to increase grip strength, such as grippers and grip building pads.

  • A gripper is a tool that you hold in your hand and squeeze between your palm and fingers. There are varying resistance levels that can go up to 100 pounds.
  • Grip building pads, or the pads that wrap around barbells, increase the diameter available for you to grip for your specific exercise. This leads to greater muscle activation in your hands, forearms, and upper arms to increase grip strength.

When using thicker bars with grip building pads, be sure to use a lower weight than you usually do since you may not be able to lift as much, and can risk dropping the bar.

Exercises for Improving Grip Strength

There are several exercises you can try—and modify—to target grip strength specifically. Add a variety of these exercises to your routine to improve various types of grip strength and muscular endurance in your upper body.

Pullups

Pull-ups use supportive and crushing grip strength. They are an excellent bodyweight exercise that can increase the strength of your grip and forearms.

  1. Stand under a pull-up bar and hold onto the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart.
  2. With your arms straight, hang from the bar. Keep your body in a straight line and engage your core. Do not swing your body.
  3. Raise your body by pulling your elbows down toward your sides at an angle.
  4. Lift until your chest is near to the bar, squeezing your mid-back to contract the muscles.
  5. Slowly lower back to the starting position.

Dead Hang

Try a dead hang to increase your supportive grip strength. This is particularly useful if you cannot yet perform a pull-up.

  1. Get into a pull-up position. Stand under a pull-up bar and hold onto the bar with an overhand grip, with your hands wider than shoulder-width apart. With your arms straight, hang from the bar. Keep your body in a straight line and engage your core.
  2. Instead of completing a pull-up, hang from the bar for as long as you can.
  3. Repeat for as many reps as desired.

Deadlifts

Deadlifts require strong grip strength, especially as you use heavier weights. A lack of grip strength can limit your ability to lift the amount that you're capable of. When gripping the barbell, squeeze it in your hand as if you are trying to bend it to apply pressure. 

It's also essential to grip the bar along the knuckle-line between your palm and fingers instead of gripping the bar in your palms. 

  1. With a barbell in front of you on the floor, stand facing it with your legs four inches or so from the bar.
  2. Your feet should be shoulder-width apart, pointed straight ahead, or slightly turned outward.
  3. Hinge your hips to squat down, maintaining a straight back, and grip the bar with an overhand grip about shoulder-width apart.
  4. Keep your arms straight and fully extended as you stand up, holding the barbell.
  5. As you lift your hips, your shoulders will rise, and your back will stay straight.
  6. When you stand up, rotate your shoulder blades back and down before lowering the barbell back to the floor in a reverse motion.

Farmer’s Walk

The farmer’s walk (or carry) will increase your supportive and crushing grip strength and can be modified to improve your pinching strength as well. Farmer’s walks will also increase the strength of your forearms.

  1. Place a heavy pair of dumbbells or kettlebells at your feet and engage your core keeping your chest up. Squat down to pick up the weights.
  2. Stand and begin walking forward, holding the weights at your sides.
  3. Walk as far as you can, and then place the weights down.

An alternative method of performing a farmer's walk is to hold the dumbbells by their base instead of their handle. This will increase your grip strength even more. You can also carry weight plates in a pincher grasp to increase your pinching grip strength.

Zottman Curls

Zottman curls help to build forearm strength.

  1. Stand with a pair of dumbbells in each hand with your arms extended by your sides. Keep your elbows close to your body and your palms facing each other in a neutral grip.
  2. Rotate your palms outward so that they are facing away from you.
  3. Begin by curling the dumbbell up toward your shoulders while keeping your elbows in place.
  4. Once your dumbells reach shoulder-level, rotate the dumbells so that your palms are facing outward.
  5. Lower your dumbbells back down to your sides with your palms facing the ground.
  6. Lift the dumbbells back up toward your shoulders with your palms still facing the ground.
  7. At the top, twist your wrists so your palms face you and reverse the curl motion.
  8. Continue alternating curling with palms facing up and down for as many reps as desired.

Other Ways Grip Strength is Helpful

In addition to helping you increase your weight on various lifts, grip strength helps with other sports like rock climbing, where you will need a high level of supportive grip strength. Gymnastics, calisthenics, baseball, rugby, golf, and racquet sports also require strong grip strength.

Functional daily activities that benefit from a strong grip include opening jars, carrying heavy loads, and living a healthy, independent life as you age.

A Word From Verywell

Grip strength is comprised of several factors and is an essential part of living a healthy and active lifestyle well into your older years. For weight lifting, increasing grip strength improves performance and provides a better chance of you reaching your potential maximum lifts.

Improving your grip strength is possible with practice and effort. Utilizing the specific exercises and techniques in this article can help.

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Article Sources
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